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Take Us To Church

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“The song is about asserting yourself and reclaiming your humanity through an act of love. Turning your back on the theoretical thing, something that’s not tangible, and choosing to worship or love something that is tangible and real — something that can be experienced…But it’s not an attack on faith.”

Welcome back Duke. Here we all are, in the thick of it again, walking across campus through deceivingly sunny and very cold weather and taking our first rounds of midterms. All the while I hope you’re listening to incredible songs and to each other.

I have been listening to one song in particular, in fact.

Earlier in the year I spontaneously attended a concert with a friend on mine on a Sunday night. After having about enough of the pop songs that killed it on stage, I asked my friend, Madison, to play something different in the car. She hesitated to change the Counting Crows song we’re blasting.

“OK. You can change the song if you don’t like it, but this is a guy I’ve been listening to recently….he is different. Also, I don’t know how to pronounce his name.”

Hoe-zee-ayy? It’s a long drive from Raleigh, so I sat back and closed my eyes just as the song came on.

My lover’s got humor…”

From the first minor chord I know it was going to be brilliant. His voice filled the car, and by the time he ripped through the word “heaven” I was in love.

Andrew Hozier-Byrne, a native of Bray, Ireland, dropped out of studying music at Trinity College to write music. Sitting at his parent’s piano, frustrated at the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church, he began writing the song that would impact a music industry thousands of miles away. He wrote some lyrics down and “went up into the attic and made a little demo”, and in less than a year it was crashing through the top charts.

The first play of his self-titled album was on an alternative radio station in Dublin and the song is now the highest charted Grammy nominee song of the year. It hit number two on the Billboard charts in the U.S. and has sold over 380,000 copies; “Take Me to Church” alone sold 3.06 million downloads. The song peaked at number 1 on the charts in Australia, Belgium, Portugal, Sweden and Switzerland and stayed there for 25 weeks straight.

Hozier’s musical influence stems from his father, a musician and touring drummer, who introduced him to blues and artists like John Lee Hooker. His musical influences when growing up were mostly Motown and gospel, which becomes obvious after listening to the rest of the album; the soul in his voice greatly overcomes his young age and strongly incorporates both gospel and blues characteristics.

Hozier credits the hit song’s biggest influence as James Joyce’s book, The Portrait of an Artist As a Young Man. Says Hozier, Joyce’s book is “very much about a man’s struggle to find his own identity in an oppressive culture of church, in an age influenced heavily by the Catholic church and a nationalism that he just wants to be free of.”

His bluesy, sensual lyrics strike so many chords that it is hard to pinpoint them. It’s essentially a ballad, a song about treating the one you love not as an idea or something ephemeral but as something tangible and breakable. The low bass kick in after “We were born sick, you heard them say it” reverberates through the song and heats up the pre-chorus just enough to force the listener into an active engagement with lyrics. The breathy ‘Amen’ and emphasis on the introductory ‘Take’ of the Chorus is passionate and hurting. His dedication to the gospel incorporations makes the sexual theme either slightly confusing or even more risqué. The song itself is fearless, just like Hozier when asked about writing this song.

Take Me to Church is essentially about sex… and obviously sex and humanity are incredibly tied. Sexuality, and sexual orientation — regardless of orientation — is just natural,” he says.

He makes sure in every interview to assert that he is not attacking the institution of the Church, but being wary of the idea of a belief we cannot touch:

“The song is about asserting yourself and reclaiming your humanity through an act of love. Turning your back on the theoretical thing, something that’s not tangible, and choosing to worship or love something that is tangible and real — something that can be experienced…But it’s not an attack on faith.”

Hozier is unlike any other top charting artist. He is honest and authentic about himself and his motivations and is sending a message with his words. He knows how strong of a statement he is making with “Take Me to Church.” And he is not unprepared.

We are engaged college students so naturally I will end with this quote by the songwriter himself: “You grow up and recognize that in any educated secular society, there’s no excuse for ignorance. You have to recognize [that] in yourself, and challenge yourself, that if you see racism or homophobia or misogyny in a secular society, as a member of that society, you should challenge it. You owe it to the betterment of society.”

When you hear a song and it makes you challenge the way you think, the way you love, you owe it to yourself and to the world to figure out why.

Photo Credit: The Guardian

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